Sunday, 14 March 2010

the white tiger [aravind adiga]

Adiga's book has been an international publishing phenomenon, as well as winning the Booker prize. In practice it's a glass half full/ glass half empty book.

Here's the glass half empty:

White Tiger is a somewhat one-dimensional piece of writing. The narrator and anti-hero, Balram, tells a simple story over the course of a week, describing how he went from the 'darkness' of India's rural backwaters, to glory as an entrepreneur. The catalyst in moving from one world to the other was a violent crime, although in truth the narrator's canny intelligence has already marked him out as a contender within the bustling new India. The plot moves along at a brisk if not rollicking pace, punctuated by Balram's asides on the nature of his country. However, this is one of those books where a lot seems to happen and at the same time, next to nothing seems to happen. Balram recounts his life history, and although the critics praise the 'shocking' act of murder which lies beneath his genial tone, the fact is there's nothing that shocking about it. This is the world of fiction after all: it's supposed to contain murders and the like, and the action within White Tiger always feels relatively tame. It offers a wry account of a new India, which people, particularly in Britain, probably want to hear, but it's far from the coruscating vision of Rohinton Mistry, whose darker, more savage novels capture the true horror of India's overwhelming poverty.

Glass half full:

White Tiger's rawness is one of its great strengths. Its narrator's prose has the kind of unpolished verve which successfully captures the chaotic energy of a rapidly changing nation, struggling with the cruel juxtaposition of great wealth and even greater poverty. At the moment, on You Tube, the IPL is doing its level best to turn cricket into the biggest brand sport in the world, a sport based in India, out-selling the Premier League or the NBA. The remarkable thing is it might just succeed. Turn it on and you'll see razzmatazz, foreign stars, baying crowds, beamed around the world. Balram belongs to this New India, where the clash between wealth and poverty will inevitably lead to violence; it's just a question of whether that violence can be contained. White Tiger lays bare the corruption, venality and the way in which both rich and poor are committed, day by day, to the business of maintaining and improving their station. Whilst comparisons have been made to Dickens, there's something in the narrator's free-flowing, conversational style that seems more reminiscent of 18th century British literature: the free-wheeling prose of Fielding, or the acute observational skills of Defoe, married to the scathing satire of Swift. Adiga is a writer riding the wave of vast change within his country, as technology, population explosion, scarcity and the potential for wealth combine to generate hardship, but also possibility, for those who are prepared to grasp the nettle. The writer's voice seems to articulate this brave new world, which has such people in it.

1 comment:

maldoror said...

on reflection it may well have made sense to make this whole review about lalit modi, one of the more intriguing figures to emerge from both india and sport, in recent years, but it's already written so i've missed that boat... another time, lalit.